Don’t complain about your partner to your friends

It makes things harder.

Leave Her Wild from the At Wild Woman series by Amanda Sandlin

Picking up the phone to call a friend after a fight with your partner can be such a relief. They get us. But what if that emotional release had negative side effects?

How you see your partner is everything in a relationship

Relationship researcher John Gottman has an important piece of advice for us:

Seeing your relationship as a good one is vital for relationship satisfaction. Sharing that appreciation with each other makes us happy.

But what if you don’t see your partner in a positive light anymore? They irritate you to no end. What if each positive thought about your partner is immediately followed by a “Yeah, but…”?

Talking to friends: Support with negative side effects?

That’s often when we go running to our friends to complain. In my experience, men don’t tend to do this as much, but women lean on their girlfriends for support. I could tell you the biggest struggle in each of my female friends’ relationships in a heartbeat. I don’t think my boyfriend can say the same about his friends.

Women, when we feel bad we rally our friends around us. They pick us up, share their wisdom and make us feel better. Which is amazing and healthy. I’d highly recommend the guys try it for themselves.

The thing is, it’s healthy until it’s not.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Blue three-legged unicorns and cognitive dissonance

See, if you were to go around telling people that your favorite animal was a blue three-legged unicorn, you’d believe yourself after a while. And you’d get a few weird birthday gifts.

When we disclose things about our identity, we try to live up to them. Otherwise, we experience what psychologists call cognitive dissonance: When our thoughts contradict our behavior. Humans don’t like to feel fake. We have to resolve this internal conflict: either stop our weird behavior or change a belief we have about ourselves. Then the tension would be gone.

What do you think happens if you spend an hour every week complaining about your partner?

Say you tell your friends that you hate how your partner doesn’t even greet you when you walk in the door. What if you come home tonight and they give you a kiss? Will you count this in their favor?

You might, but if you’ve done enough venting to enough people, it’s hard to see your partner in a positive light. Words of appreciation? Come on, John Gottman. This is too hard. Your partner would have to do an awful lot of kissing you in at the door for you to get the memo.

When you complain about your partner a lot, it doesn’t make you like them. It makes it harder to love them.

I’m not saying don’t talk about your relationship issues with your friends. It can be healing and give you new insights into what might be going on. We need emotional support.

Just keep an eye out for how often you’re running to them to hash out your problems. If your first instinct is to call a friend rather than to talk to your partner — well, that’s a warning sign.

Now don’t stress yourself out if this is you. Like most things in a relationship, it’s simple to fix (note I didn’t say easy, although this one is easy-ish).

Here’s a habit I adopted that really helped: Talk to your diary first. Diaries are great listeners, and the best part is they don’t start resenting your partner. You get your feelings off your chest and gain some perspective by yourself. If you want to talk to a friend, wait it out a little bit. Talk to one instead of five. Give them an update once a month rather than an immediate text message report.

When your friends start resenting your partner

Complaining is not only dangerous because it influences how you view your relationship. It changes how your friends view your partner. And when the two of you turn things around, your friends might not feel like celebrating.

Our brain gives negative news more credit than positive news. Your friends want to protect you, so why would they let go of that ugly fight you reported last week? Sure, you seem happy now. But they’ll watch out for signs of danger. Which is awesome. That’s why friends can be so valuable when we need to get out of a truly bad relationship.

But.

When you’re in a good relationship that has temporarily gone bad, you don’t want your friends to come running with torches.

Consider this: Your stories are the primary source of information for your friends. So if all you tell them about your partner is bad, what conclusions do you expect them to draw? When your relationship crisis is over remember to tell your friends about the good things too. Even when they don’t seem report-worthy.

And while you’re in the thick of a crisis, watch your language. If you talk to everyone before you talk with your partner, everyone’s advice will cloud your judgment.

It will be harder for you to see your partner in a positive light, when they may very well deserve it.

Get that cognitive dissonance out of the way. Let your partner and you remember the good foundation you had and why you’re good for each other. And once you’re happy again, don’t forget to tell your friends.


Iris Barzen has been with her boyfriend for 10 years. As a psychology student, she wants to know why and devours research on stable, happy relationships. She shares her findings on love and psychology on Medium. Iris also works as a Simple Living coach where she helps clients simplify their lives and enjoy more me-time.